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Spring Football Insider: Day 12




April 5, 2012

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Pitt Spring Drills — Day 12 Practice Notebook & Quote Sheet

A Visit to Heinz: It was a day for baseball on Pittsburgh’s North Shore as the Pirates opened their 2012 season against the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park. A few hours prior to the opening pitch, footballs were flying just a few blocks away at Heinz Field, where Coach Paul Chryst held Pitt’s Thursday spring practice. 

The Panthers worked out for more than two hours in full gear on Heinz Field’s freshly lined grass surface, which looked fit for a fairway wedge at Augusta this morning. Pitt now has two practices plus the April 14 Blue-Gold Scrimmage remaining this spring.

Mason Memories: The Panthers were shuttled to Heinz Field on three buses, which parked inside the stadium behind the north end zone. Players walked onto the field through the unfamiliar visitors entrance. Junior linebacker Dan Mason remarked he hadn’t walked through the visiting team tunnel since his sophomore year at Penn Hills High, when the Indians faced Upper St. Clair in the 2006 WPIAL Class AAAA championship game.

Loud and Clear: Dan Mason continues to show remarkable physical form after sitting out last season while recovering from a serious 2010 knee injury. During an inside run drill Mason made two shattering hits that echoed around Heinz Field and drew hoots and hollers from his teammates.

Going Deep: Senior quarterback Tino Sunseri lofted a beautiful 70-yard scoring pass to senior receiver Cameron Saddler. Sunseri hit Saddler in stride on a deep post route to the 15-yard line. The diminutive wideout then made a nice spin move to elude a tackler’s grasp and slip into the end zone. "Tino launched that pass," Saddler said. "It went like 55 yards in the air."

Tough Little Guy: Cameron Saddler absorbed a crushing hit over the middle from sophomore safety Ray Vinopal that broke up a pass. Perhaps motivated by the celebratory cheers of the defense, the 5-foot-8 Saddler popped up immediately and patted the helmet of every defender he came across on his way back to the huddle.  

Donald Devastates: Given his high level of play this spring, Aaron Donald figures to be one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in all of college football this year. Coming off an All-Big East season in 2011, the junior defensive tackle has been an interior terror in scrimmages thus far.

During 11-on-11 work Donald made the following sequence of plays: a “strip sack” where he recovered his own forced fumble inside the offense’s 15-yard line, another quarterback sack for a six-yard loss and, finally, a batted down pass on third down.

A second team All-American by FoxSports.com last year, Donald could be poised for more national accolades this season.

Like We Drew it Up: Sophomore tight end Drew Carswell was a practice standout today, totaling six touchdown catches during Pitt’s scrimmage and 7-on-7 red zone periods. The highlight was a 42-yard reception off play action when Tino Sunseri hit Carswell on a wheel route down the sideline.

An all-state wide receiver at Sto-Rox, Carswell transitioned to tight end last year and totaled 13 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown. He is excited about the heavy usage of tight ends in Coach Paul Chryst’s system.

“I love this offense,” Carswell said. “Every day, every play there are opportunities for us.”

Pick Six: Sophomore linebacker Eric Williams stepped in front of a receiver to make an interception and, while following an escort of fellow defenders, returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.

Asked what he saw when he jumped the route, Williams replied, “The end zone.”

Williams was limited to just three games last year due to injuries. This spring he has established himself as a strong contender for the starting assignment at Sam linebacker. 

Old School: Two former high school teammates, quarterback Mark Myers and tight end Brendan Carozzoni, connected on a 15-yard touchdown pass during today’s scrimmage. The pair starred together at St. Ignatius High in Cleveland, helping their team to the 2008 Ohio Division I championship. Myers and Carozzoni enter their sophomore seasons at Pitt after lettering as reserves last year.

Two other former high school teammates made a different kind of connection earlier in the day. Sophomore receiver Brandon Ifill got his hands on a slant pass but was separated from the ball by sophomore cornerback Cullen Christian. Both are products of nearby Penn Hills and helped the Indians to the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs each season of their varsity careers.

Hendricks Healthy: Junior safety Jason Hendricks looks good as new after missing the final six games of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury. Hendricks made the first interception of Thursday’s practice when he tracked down an overthrown deep pass down the right sideline.

Revenge for Rackard: Junior E.J.Banks, who recently moved to tailback, made a nifty move in the hole to shake junior linebacker Emanuel Rackard and pick up a 15-yard gain. Rackard gained a measure of revenge a few plays later when he met Banks hard at the line, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the defense. 

Visiting VIPs: Visitors to the Pitt practice facility today included four high school head coaches: Mark Lyons (Central Valley), Jeff Weachter (Bishop McDevitt), Matt Ortega (Coatesville Area) and Mark Washington (Moon Area). Also on hand was former Pitt offensive line standout Dean Caliguire, who was a fourth-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 1990. Additionally, the “Voice of the Panthers” Bill Hillgrove bussed down to Heinz Field with the team and took in practice.   

Next Up: Pitt will hold its 13th spring practice on Tuesday, April 10, at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex.      

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